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The Philosophy of David Lynch

The Philosophy of David Lynch

William J. Devlin
Shai Biderman
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of David Lynch
    Book Description:

    From his cult classic television seriesTwin Peaksto his most recent filmInland Empire(2006), David Lynch is best known for his unorthodox narrative style. An award-winning director, producer, and writer, Lynch distorts and disrupts traditional storylines and offers viewers a surreal, often nightmarish perspective. His unique approach to filmmaking has made his work familiar to critics and audiences worldwide, and he earned Academy Award nominations for Best Director forThe Elephant Man(1980),Blue Velvet(1986), andMulholland Drive(2001).

    Lynch creates a new reality for both characters and audience by focusing on the individual and embracing existentialism. InThe Philosophy of David Lynch, editors William J. Devlin and Shai Biderman have compiled an impressive list of contributors to explore the philosophy at the core of the filmmaker's work. Lynch is examined as a postmodern artist, and the themes of darkness, logic, and time are discussed in depth. Other prominent issues in Lynch's films, such as Bad faith and freedom, ethics, politics, and religion, are also considered. Investigating myriad aspects of Lynch's influential and innovative work,The Philosophy of David Lynchprovides a fascinating look at the philosophical underpinnings of the famous cult director.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3396-6
    Subjects: Film Studies, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)
    William J. Devlin and Shai Biderman

    Award-winning film director, producer, and writer David Lynch is perhaps best known for his unorthodox filmmaking style. The Lynchian cinema is distinctively unique. From his cult classic filmEraserhead(1977) to his neo-noir television seriesTwin Peaks(1990–1991) to his abstract filmInland Empire(2006), Lynch distorts and disrupts viewers’ expectations of a traditional approach to narrative and story line, plot points, character development, frame composing, and film styling. He presents to viewers a surreal, often nightmarish, perspective that allows us to experience the world of film in an entirely new way. While his approach to filmmaking may deter...

  5. Part 1. The World of David Lynch

    • “The Owls Are Not What They Seem”: The Logic of Lynch’s World
      (pp. 7-24)
      Robert Arp and Patricia Brace

      Our world is not inherently logical—we impose logic upon it to make sense of the random and absurd happenings all around us and to create a sense of order out of chaos. The beauty of the work of filmmaker David Lynch is that he not only recognizes this basic truth about the absurdity of human existence, he celebrates it to create his own unique worldview. By showcasing distortions and manipulations of reality, and logical paradoxes and fallacies used as the basis for his characters’ actions, a typical Lynch film can be off-putting to many viewers. Because his films are...

    • Intuition and Investigation into Another Place: The Epistemological Role of Dreaming in Twin Peaks and Beyond
      (pp. 25-44)
      Simon Riches

      If there is one thing that viewers remember about David Lynch’s hit ABC television seriesTwin Peaks(1990–1991), it is surely FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) dream at the culmination of “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” (season 1, episode 2). Amid a succession of characters, Cooper encounters a dancing, backward-talking lounge-lizard dwarf in a strikingly vivid red room—an enigmatic figure known as the Man from Another Place (Michael J. Anderson). Among its multifarious array of imagery and wordplay, Cooper’s dream supposedly held the answer to the series’ enduring question: the mystery of who...

    • The Horrors of Life’s Hidden Mysteries: Blue Velvet
      (pp. 45-60)
      Sander H. Lee

      Many of us are lucky enough to live ordinary, comfortable lives untouched by the violence and disasters we hear about on the news. But what if there exists a horrific, violent, and evil reality hiding just below the surface of even the most seemingly secure lives? After the events of 9/11, Americans need no convincing that normal life can be shattered in an instant and that nowhere is completely safe. David Lynch’s 1986 filmBlue Velvet, which he wrote as well as directed, shows us that there is, and always will be, a frighteningly violent and sleazy underside to human...

    • The Thing about David Lynch: Enjoying the Lynchian World
      (pp. 61-76)
      Russell Manning

      Let’s begin by arguing there are movie experiences that, at first take, are very difficult to put into words. Whether they inspire us to be deliriously happy or bone-shakingly frightened, there is something about these extraordinary films that fills us with a heightened emotional response, what we could call awe or wonder. In philosophy we can ask ourselves, What is it to be awed? Why is such a feeling so attached to films we see as awe-some, with a power to generate such heightened and inspiring feelings as awe or wonder? To explain, if we imagine the difference between watching...

    • The World as Illusion: Rediscovering Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway through Indian Philosophy
      (pp. 77-92)
      Ronie Parciack

      This essay addresses the shaping of thephenomenal world, or the world of experience, in two films by David Lynch:Lost Highway(1997) andMulholland Dr. (2001). These films form an interpretational challenge due to their unclear narratives, characterized by fluid characters, winding, unstitched structures, nonlinear time, and incoherent space. I argue that Lynch’s work is a philosophical act that calls for a significant upheaval in the Western spectator’s apprehension of the phenomenal; it constitutes an epistemological change regarding both the nature of the phenomenal world and the nature of the subject within it.

      This issue is widely discussed in...

  6. Part 2. Selfhood and Subjectivity:: The Existential Drive toward Self-Understanding

    • All Roads Lead to the Self: Zen Buddhism and David Lynch’s Lost Highway
      (pp. 95-112)
      Mark Walling

      In 1929, Arthur O. Lovejoy observed that, for future historians of philosophy, the twentieth century would prove to be the “Age of the Great Revolt against Dualism.” As a theological concept,dualismpoints to a belief in an existence formed by two fundamental entities, such as God and Satan as equal forces, and contrasts with monism and pluralism. However, philosophers utilize the term to refer to any system of thought that describes human existence as comprised of two fundamental yet separate elements. Much of Western philosophy may be categorized, in one form or another, as dualistic. For Plato (427–347...

    • City of Dreams: Bad Faith in Mulholland Dr.
      (pp. 113-126)
      Jennifer McMahon

      While it commands its audience’s attention with the allure of familiar forms, David Lynch’sMulholland Dr. (2001) simultaneously subverts multiple cinematic conventions. Though Lynch employs archetypal elements of film noir (e.g., the presence of a femme fatale and a whodunit plot), he also confounds his audience’s expectations by incorporating surrealist imagery and vignettes that disrupt the continuity of the narrative. Effortlessly synthesizing iconic elements from the golden age of Hollywood film and postmodern features that introduce a profoundly cynical air, Lynch’sMulholland Dr. simultaneously deconstructs and celebrates the essence of noir film. Though the link between Lynch and noir is...

    • Constellations of the Flesh: The Embodied Self in The Straight Story and The Elephant Man
      (pp. 127-142)
      Tal Correm

      The Straight Story(1999) opens with a peaceful set of a lazy sunny afternoon in a typical suburban yard that is suddenly interrupted by a sound of a fall. Only after a while the backyard neighbors who break into the house find that the sound was caused by Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), a seventy-three-year-old man whose weary body has betrayed him, and who now cannot get to his feet without help. After this incident, Straight, because of a promise to his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), begrudgingly visits the doctor. After a thorough physical examination, Dr. Gibbons (Dan Flannery) severely warns...

    • David Lynch’s Road Films: Individuality and Personal Freedom?
      (pp. 143-158)
      Richard Gaughran

      The history of narrative has often been dominated by a character or characters on a quest. Homer’sOdyssey, to begin at the beginning, establishes a pattern: the central character desires to return home, but the long journey is fraught with dangers and unexpected obstacles. In more recent examples, the quest narrative often functions to satirize the surrounding culture and its values, as the protagonist stands apart as an outside witness. Such is the case, for instance, with Cervantes’Don Quixote(1615), or, to move the examples still closer to the present and onto the American landscape, Mark Twain’sAdventures of...

    • Lynch’s Zarathustra: The Straight Story
      (pp. 159-172)
      Shai Frogel

      David Lynch’sThe Straight Story(1999) centers on a seventy-three-year-old World War II veteran, Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who lives in the farmlands of Laurence, Iowa, with his daughter, Rose (Sissy Spacek). On a thunderous night, as if being struck by lightning, Alvin learns that his brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), recently suffered a stroke. Alvin and Lyle have been estranged for a decade. Straight decides that he must see his brother and make amends with him before it is too late, and therefore goes on a journey to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin. Once reunited, they look again, just as they...

  7. Part 3. The Self Confronts the World:: Issues in Ethics, Society, and Religion

    • “There’s a Sort of Evil Out There”: Emersonian Transcendentalism in Twin Peaks
      (pp. 175-188)
      Scott Hamilton Suter

      David Lynch’s well-known practice of Transcendental Meditation, a form of mantra meditation, and his application of Eastern religious teachings to his work in film and art invite comparisons of the director’s work to that of other writers and artists who have approached their crafts with a similar vision. Certainly much of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s (1803–1882) thought explores the importance of looking beyond the surface to the unity that lies apart from the apparent reality. Throughout the many hours of work and influence he contributed to the television programTwin Peaks(1990–1991), its pilot, and the filmTwin Peaks:...

    • “In Heaven Everything Is Fine”: Erasing Traditional Morality
      (pp. 189-206)
      Jason Southworth

      Like most films by David Lynch,Eraserhead(1977) presents a challenge for its interpreters. Any attempt to come up with a coherent interpretation of this film must acknowledge that the film is comprised of several narrative sequences that interweave and interrupt each other and, in doing so, make it increasingly difficult to determine what the film is actually about. This is partly because Lynch makes an intentional effort to baffle and confuse the audience by combiningliteralandmetaphorical imagery. Literal imagery consists of those scenes, shots, and frames that stand for the reality of the film. In other words,...

    • The Monster Within: Alienation and Social Conformity in The Elephant Man
      (pp. 207-224)
      Shai Biderman and Assaf Tabeka

      In the TV sitcomSeinfeldepisode “The Pick” (season 4, episode 13), Jerry Seinfeld, the stand-up comedian whose observations on the minutiae of the mundane provide the essence of the show, is caught in his car picking his nose in a traffic jam. More exactly, heappearsto be picking his nose from the external perspective of the passenger in the car next to him. Unfortunately, that passenger happens to be a model friend whom Seinfeld is trying to impress. When Seinfeld realizes the misconception, he chases the model into the offices of Calvin Klein in order to plead his...

    • Prophesies, Experience, and Proof: Philosophy of Religion in Dune
      (pp. 225-238)
      William J. Devlin

      In his filmDune(1984), director David Lynch presents us with the religious journey of Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), son of Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow) and Lady Jessica Atreides (Francesca Annis). In this film set in the year 10,191, Paul’s parents are the heads of the House of Atreides and serve under Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (José Ferrer), the ruler of the known universe. Emperor Shaddam’s power rests on controlling the substance called “spice melange,” a commodity that extends life and enables safe travel through space. Suspicious that Duke Leto has plans to take control of the spice, Emperor...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 239-242)
  9. Index
    (pp. 243-248)